So, you want to know if you can front squat with a herniated disc.
There will potentially be a stage when the pain is too intense for any form of exercise.
However, once things start to improve you’ll typically want to get back to the gym.
With that being said, you’ll want to avoid exercises such as back squats and deadlifts.
But, are front squats allowed or should they be avoided too?
Allow me to reveal all.
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Can You Front Squat With a Herniated Disc?
Yes, you can front squat with a herniated disc, although this will depend on how far along you are in the recovery process. Exercise is actually good for a herniated disc, as it will help you to retrain the muscles. However, you should initially reload the spine with light activity, using bodyweight spinal stabilisation exercises. It is also important not to load weight on the back and only use exercises which help you to maintain a neutral spine. Front squats fall into this category.
1. Exercise is Good For a Herniated Disc
The most important factor when it comes to attempting to exercise with a herniated disc is how much pain you’re currently in.
Then again, after seeking medical advice, you’ll also be aware of just how much damage has been done.
By this I mean that not all herniations are created equal.
Therefore, some people may be able to continue training as though nothing has really occurred.
Although, they’ll probably want to make a few adjustments here-and-there.
However, if your Doctor tells you that you’ve caused a fair amount of damage, plus you’re in extreme pain, then exercise is obviously best avoided for a while.
With that being said, exercise is actually both required and recommended for a herniated disc.
In effect, it will help you to retrain your lower back muscles.
But, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately return to lifting the same weights (or even performing the same exercises) as before.
Basically, the last thing you want to do is to start loading weight onto a back that is currently damaged.
So, in effect, back squats and deadlifts MAY need to be avoided for a while.
The reason I say “may” is again down to how serious the injury is, although there are many variations of each exercise that can be safely performed.
With that being said, your aim should be to perform exercises with a neutral spine until you are completely recovered.
And of course, back squats and deadlifts do not allow for maintaining a neutral spine.
So, let’s take a look at what you should initially be doing.
2. Gradually Reload the Spine
Okay, so I’ve spoken of not placing a heavy load on your back when you have a herniated disc.
Plus, it’s important to maintain a neutral spine.
Additionally, I would also avoid any overhead pressing exercises, as well as conventional squats and deadlifts.
Basically, overhead pressing does place stress on the spine and there is a tendency to arch the lower back.
This is also why I feel it’s fine to front squat with a herniated disc.
But, once more, this comes down to how bad both the pain and injury is.
With that being said, you can certainly perform certain exercises that allow you to gradually reload the spine.
In fact, this is something I would suggest for everyone who has a herniated disc, and something you should do prior to trying front squats.
What you’re specifically looking to do is to perform spinal stabilisation exercises.
This will involve training the antagonistic muscles of the core.
More specifically, the abs and glutes, as well as the hip flexors and lower back.
Furthermore, it also makes sense to perform stretches that gently extend the lower back.
These types of stretches can actually relieve pain, and may even help to realign your discs.
As an example, bird dogs and dead bugs are a fantastic way to use bodyweight exercises to gently place load on the spine.
Additionally, they will not only stabilise and strengthen the target muscles, they can also provide much relief for pain.
You can actually check out this fantastic article by Kenneth Leung.
Kenneth will walk you through your first month of stabilising and strengthening exercises.
Once you’ve got through these, regardless of how serious the injury or pain has been, you’re then ready to start front squatting.
Dead Bug & Bird Dog Exercises
3. The Front Squat is Just as Good as The Back Squat
I honestly believe that most people don’t front squat anywhere near as much as they should.
And by this I mean that you should be regularly front squatting whether you are recovering from a herniated disc or not.
So, even as someone who is the picture of health, the front squat should definitely form part of your training routine.
Most of us typically view the back squat as the best lower body exercise.
And therefore in order to train our lower body we all seem to perform the barbell back squat.
The front squat is often avoided because you can’t lift as much weight, and we view it as much more of a quadricep exercise.
In fact, most people wrongly assume that you are working completely different muscles when you back squat and front squat.
Now, while you may certainly “feel” the two exercises more in different areas of the body, they’re not actually as dissimilar as you may think.
Basically, a squat is a squat, irrespective of which variation you use.
So, in effect, the exact same muscles will be activated and trained regardless of where you place a barbell, dumbbell, or any other piece of equipment.
You must remember that the squat is a natural human movement pattern, and therefore it will always stimulate the same muscles.
Therefore, even if you feel front squats more in your quads, it is still working the glutes and hamstrings too.
The main difference being is that you’ll generally have to perform front squats with a lighter weight, foot placement is slightly narrower, and most importantly, you can maintain a neutral spine.
If you think about it, you can’t lean forward in the front squat in the same way you would with the back squat, as the weight would simply fall off the front of your shoulders.
And this is why you can front squat with a herniated disc.
However, I will repeat once more, this does very much depend on the level of herniation and the pain you’re currently experiencing.
As always, if you’re in extreme pain, ensure you speak to your GP, while recovering and placing as little stress as possible on the affected area.
So, I hope you understand that you can front squat with a herniated disc.
With that be said, this will largely depend on how bad the actual herniation is, as well as how much pain you’re experiencing.
The main thing about a herniated disc is that you don’t want to be loading weight on your back.
Plus, you should also avoid bending or rounding your lower back while holding a weighted load.
So, this typically rules out back squats, deadlifts, and even overhead pressing.
However, when it comes to the front squat, you’ll remain upright and be able to maintain a neutral spine.
More Front Squat Articles
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.